Diversify the outdoor classroom

Diversifying the play space on the elementary school playground with mandala circle gardens of native perennials, shrubs and trees offers students and teachers a hands-on curriculum base to rediscover their schoolyard as a space to identify native and common plants to help raise awareness of the rich biodiversity of foods native to this area. Foraging, seed collection/saving and identification are but a few cross-curricular subjects for the school community to practice and learn from seasonally. Bridging outdoor curriculum to seasonal lesson plans assists teachers and students to fall into a natural rhythm in the outdoor classroom.

Naturalizing the Outdoor Classroom: Cardinal Direction Mandala Gardens on the playground


The term polyculture refers to the practice of growing a number of crop species on the same land at the same time. The term

perennial refers to a plant species which lives for more than two years (Whitefield 2004).

The term 'Permaculture' itself, is derived from the words permanent, agriculture and culture. It comes from the principle

that a stable, sustainable culture cannot exist without an integrated relationship with a system of sustainable agriculture (Holmgren 2002, Whitefield 2004). From its conception, permaculture has had a strong emphasis on developing relationships between communities and agriculture for the purpose of creating a stable, secure, localized food system.

Why plant perennial guilds in the outdoor classroom?

Ethical gardening for a better future: Grow colonies of plants that enjoy similar habitats and which are naturally suited to your playground's growing conditions.

Edible Landscaping.

Edible landscaping is the practice of planting food producing plant species in place of ornamental species in the landscape, typically in residential areas. Edible landscaping around residential areas provides an ascetically pleasing landscape while producing food. This is far more than just a way to garden.

Companion Planting.

Companion plants are plants that benefit from being planted near each other. Indigenous people have practiced companion planting in their gardens for thousands of years (e.g. three sisters gardens of North America) to create multi-functional relationships among crops (Kuepper and Dodson 2001). In addition to producing food, many of these plants fix nitrogen,

aggregate nutrients, suppress undesired species, provide security through biodiversity, have physical interactions (partition resources), attract beneficial insects and wildlife, mitigate pest pressure, enhance soil structure and enhance the health

of the soil food web (Jacke and Toensmeier 2005, Kuepper and Dodson 2001).


What does this mean in practical gardening terms? Broadly speaking, it means taking a holistic and ecologically friendly approach, one that fosters soil, plant, animal and human health as well as biodiversity and garden wildlife by taking nature as its role model.



'The ethics earth care, people care and fair share form the foundation for permaculture design and are also found in most traditional societies. Ethics are culturally evolved mechanisms that regulate self-interest, giving us a better understanding of good and bad outcomes. The greater the power of humans, the more critical ethics become for long-term cultural and biological survival. Permaculture ethics are distilled from research into community ethics, learning from cultures that have existed in relative balance with their environment for much longer than more recent civilizations. This does not mean that we should ignore the great teachings of modern times, but in the transition to a sustainable future, we need to consider values and concepts outside the current social norm.'(reference: https://permacultureprinciples.com/ethics/)

'Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labor; and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single product system.'

- Bill Mollison

"“In this process of unlearning, in the process of feeling and hearing the plants again, one comes to realize many things.

And of these things, perhaps stronger than the others, one feels the pain of the Earth. It is not possible to escape it."

- Stephen Harrod Buhner


“Is the soul solid, like iron? Or is it tender and breakable, like the wings of a moth in the beak of the owl? Who has it, and who doesn’t? I keep looking around me. “Is the soul solid, like iron? Or is it tender and breakable, like the wings of a moth in the beak of the owl? Who has it, and who doesn’t? I keep looking around me. One question leads to another.

Does it have a shape? Like an iceberg? Like the eye of a hummingbird? Does it have one lung, like the snake and the scallop? Why should I have it, and not the anteater who loves her children? Why should I have it, and not the camel? Come to think of it, what about the maple trees? What about the blue iris? What about all the little stones, sitting alone in the moonlight? What about roses, and lemons, and their shining leaves? What about the grass?

—Mary Oliver

(Stephen Harrod Buhner, The Lost Language of Plants: The Ecological Importance of Plant Medicines to Life on Earth)

Restorative Practices 

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